The Medium and the Message

Panorama_©Helen DeRamus 2013

This weekend at dk Gallery I participated in a panel discussion about the figure and nude in contemporary art. It was well attended and very interesting to hear the other artists: Holly Irwin, Kevin Chambers, Kristopher Meadows, and Susan Easton Burns, talk about their approaches to painting as well as their philosophy of art. What struck me most was the question of how the medium that the artist uses influences their painting practice. So what mediums do I use: ink and lithographic crayon on paper, ink monotypes, encaustic monotypes, IPad drawings, encaustic on paper and board.

The  question is ever present for me because I use encaustic on wood panel as my primary medium. Encaustic is a seductive medium; the paintings created call your attention because of the beautiful, touchable, translucent surface. And there is mystery when looking closely you see layers that may be hidden from view at first and then on closer examination become more and more apparent. It is a remarkably versatile medium and unpredictable, even frustrating at times. To create a large painting takes many hours of labor…preparing the surface for encaustic and the image, fusing each layer to make an archival painting, scraping areas that don’t work. The list in this process of making a painting is very long and the result may be very satisfying. I must admit that making my own medium and paint is one of my favorite parts of the process. In a sense painting this way is a meditation and does require, at least for me, patience. If I have not said it before I say it now. The medium has taught me patience. As a former action or abstract expressionist oil painting devotee, the move almost twenty years ago to this medium was a big jump; I am still learning.

One of the most difficult areas to deal with is the desire to experiment with materials and try new techniques rather than concentrate on the image itself. Books are now being written about the constant exploration, YouTube has dozens of entries and each one could be  tempting. Maybe it is easier to experiment than to take on the more difficult task of image making. That is, making an image that is meaningful to me. This is a slippery slope to be so in love with the medium that the message gets lost in the process. I am certainly not the only artist to get lost in this and other mediums and have heard others talk of it too. We struggle with making an image that speaks to us, that leaves us satisfied or at least speaks to someone somewhere. After all it is the image that matters.

2 thoughts on “The Medium and the Message

  1. Hi Helen, Thanks for the shout out! I agree……..there is so much out there to explore when it comes to media and technique. It’s mind boggling! A teacher once told me to periodically write about what my art means to me and why I do it. It’s a way to keep reconnecting with the soul of our work. Look forward to your workshop!


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